|Songs for a Tailor|
|Studio album by |
|Released||29 August 1969 (UK)|
6 October 1969 (US)
|Genre||Progressive rock, jazz-rock, blues-rock|
|Length||31:32 (initial release)|
43:48 (2003 CD reissue)
Atco (initial U.S. release, SD 33-306)
|Jack Bruce chronology|
Songs for a Tailor is the 1969 debut solo album by the Scottish musician, composer and singer Jack Bruce, who was already famous at the time of its release for his work with the supergroup Cream. Originally released on the Polydor label in Europe and on Atco Records in the U.S., Songs for a Tailor was the second solo album that Bruce recorded, though he did not release the first, Things We Like, for another year.
The album, which was titled in tribute to Cream's recently deceased clothing designer, displayed more of the musician's diverse influences than his compositions for Cream, though it did not chart as highly as his work with that band. Nevertheless, it was successful, reaching No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 55 on the Billboard "Pop Albums" chart.
While it has not been universally critically well-received, with a negative review by Rolling Stone on its first release, it is considered by many writers to be among Bruce's best albums. The literary lyrics by poet and songwriter Pete Brown have been particularly divisive, with one critic singling them out for praise while others have been more generally critical. Songs on the album include "Never Tell Your Mother She's Out of Tune", and "Theme for an Imaginary Western", which was covered famously by Leslie West's Mountain, and is featured in 2006's 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time and the Artists, Stories and Secrets Behind Them.
After performing with various blues bands in his youth, Bruce rose to prominence in the rock world as a member of influential rock band Cream. After the group disbanded in 1969, Bruce began releasing solo material. Songs for a Tailor, released in September 1969, was Bruce's debut solo release, but chronologically his second solo album; Things We Like, his first solo recording, was released a year later.
The album was titled in tribute to Jeannie Franklyn ("Genie the Tailor"), a clothing designer who designed wardrobes for Cream and was also the girlfriend of Fairport Convention guitarist Richard Thompson (and, according to Bruce's 2010 biography Composing Himself, an ex-lover of Bruce's). In 1969, Franklyn wrote Bruce a letter requesting that he "[s]ing some high notes for me," a letter that reached him on 14 May 1969, two days after she was killed in a motor vehicle accident in Fairport Convention's touring van. Franklyn died--and Bruce received the letter from her--on his 26th birthday.
A blues and jazz musician by background who had studied Bach and Scottish folk music as a child, Bruce produced a debut effort that was musically diverse.Songs for a Tailor was described in Music Week on its 2003 reissue as "an impressive effort defying musical categorisation". Two of the songs--"Weird of Hermiston" and "The Clearout"--had originally been penned for possible inclusion on the 1967 Cream album Disraeli Gears. However, the album was not simply a continuation of Bruce's material for Cream, but displayed more of the musician's diversity.
|Rolling Stone||(unfavorable) |
The album was generally successful, reaching No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 55 on the Billboard "Pop Albums" chart. It did not reach the sales levels of Bruce's work with Cream, the later albums of which consistently broke the top 10 of the Billboard "Pop Albums" charts before their dissolution, but, as of 2002, it was the most successful album of his solo career. Largely acclaimed, particularly in the UK, the album proved influential, described in 2001 by BBC as a "seminal" work. However, reviews were not universally positive, with critical opinion particularly divided on the album's lyrics, penned by long-term Bruce collaborator Pete Brown.
Ed Leimbacher, reviewing the album in 1969 for Rolling Stone, called Songs for a Tailor a "disappointment", panning it overall as "a patchwork affair lacking in any unifying thread, a baggy misfit made up of a shopworn miscellany of jazz riffs, rock underpinnings, chamber music strings, boringly baroque lyrics and a Bruce bass that [leaves] ... everything distinctly bottom heavy." However, later writings in the same magazine characterized it very differently. In 1971, Loyd Grossman termed it "[a] stunning recording with more than an ample amount of beautiful songs and excellent singing and playing". In 1975, he opined that "Bruce's first album, Songs for a Tailor, was so outstanding that his other albums almost always suffer by comparison." In 1989, Rolling Stone writer David Fricke, though noting that Bruce could "flirt with self-indulgence in the pursuit of the unconventional", described the artist's solo output as "highly underrated". In its review, Allmusic summarizes the album as "picture perfect in construction, performance, and presentation."
Pete Brown's lyrics have been particularly divisive. Brown, a successful poet in the early 1960s, had been collaborating with Bruce for some time, writing lyrics for such Cream hits as "White Room" and "Sunshine of Your Love". The lyrics he wrote for Songs for a Tailor are typically poetic and heavily inspired by literary themes, with the Shakespearean "He the Richmond" and the horror-infused "Weird of Hermiston".
The first Rolling Stone review judged the lyrics as unsuccessful, dismissing them as "silly" and primarily burdened by an overabundance of literary references. 2006's 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time and the Artists, Stories and Secrets Behind Them also disparaged the lyricist, stating that his "pretentious lyrics fail to connect", an inaccessibility that the book suggests combined with the lack of "instrumental fireworks" to prevent the album from reaching better commercial success. "The musicianship," that work says, particularly referencing "Bruce's soulful vocals", "remains timeless." But in later review of Bruce's work, Fricke regarded the songwriting more highly, questioning whether "anybody, beside Bruce and Brown, write songs like that anymore" and suggesting the cd version of the Bruce compilation Willpower specifically so that the lyrics could be read.
"Theme for an Imaginary Western," which Allmusic describes as "Bruce's greatest hit that never charted," is perhaps the album's best-known song. According to Allmusic, "Theme" has a "fresh, rootsy sound" reminiscent of The Band's Music from Big Pink, derived from the combination of "Bruce's overdubbed piano and organ parts" and "the country-tinged lope of the rhythm section".1001 Songs profiles the number, describing it as an "elegant, masterfully-constructed piece of jazz-rock", though it suggests that Brown's lyrics for the song are "opaque at best". Lyricist Pete Brown later explained that the song was about the member of Bruce's famously wild pre-Cream band, The Graham Bond Organisation: "I saw them as a bunch of cowboys and pioneers. I was always amazed at the camaraderie between the early groups, but ever now and then you'd get explosive situations between them, just like in the Westerns." Leimbacher, though generally dismissive of the lyrics, found an exception for this song and "To Isengard", while The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music finds the song "evocative", indicating that the album contains "[s]ome of" Bruce's "finest lyrics". The song was famously covered by Mountain, whose bassist-singer Felix Pappalardi had previously worked with Bruce as Cream's record producer, and also produced and appeared on Tailor. (One of Mountain's earliest performances of "Theme," at the August 1969 Woodstock Festival, predated the song's release on Songs for a Tailor by several weeks.) Colosseum (whose drummer Jon Hiseman played on Tailor's rendition of the song), and the progressive rock group Greenslade also recorded cover versions.
"Weird of Hermiston" and "The Clearout" were candidates for inclusion on Cream's 1967 landmark album Disraeli Gears, but deemed too uncommercial by Cream's then-U.S. label Atlantic/Atco Records for release on that record. Bruce's dissatisfaction at this is noted in the liner notes for Cream's box set Those Were the Days: "I played them for Ahmet (Atlantic executive Ahmet Ertegun), Tommy (producer/engineer Tom Dowd), and whoever else was around ... they thought it was rubbish, just psychedelic hogwash." Demo versions of the two songs, recorded by Cream in early 1967, are included on Those Were the Days.
In 1989 Fricke described "Never Tell Your Mother She's Out of Tune" as a "wacky, brassy" "enigmatic Bruce-Brown [delight]".
Bruce continued to refine and re-record the tracks from Songs for a Tailor throughout his career, both in live and studio albums. Only "To Isengard" has not been revisited.
|24 January 1970||Coventry||United Kingdom||Lanchester Arts Festival||2 Shows|
|25 January 1970||London||Lyceum Theatre|
|30 January 1970||New York City||United States||Fillmore East||2 Shows|
|31 January 1970||2 Shows|
|6 February 1970||New Orleans||The Warehouse|
|7 February 1970|
|9 February 1970|
|13 February 1970||Detroit||Eastown Theatre|
|14 February 1970|
|20 February 1970||Chicago||Kinetic Playground|
|21 February 1970|
|22 February 1970||Philadelphia||Electric Factory||2 Shows|
|25 February 1970||Houston||Music Hall|
|26 February 1970||San Francisco||Fillmore West|
|27 February 1970||Winterland Ballroom|
|28 February 1970|
|1 March 1970||Fillmore West|
Typical tour set list
Despite receiving much praise, particularly in the UK, Songs for a Tailor and Harmony Row were largely overlooked.
Some of his finest lyrics are to be found on Jack Bruce's solo debut Songs for a Tailor and How's Tricks, the former included the evocative 'Theme for an Imaginary Western'(sic)
The song in question, 'Never Tell Your Mother She's Out of Tune', was a fairly simple slice of British soul. George's accompaniment, largely buried in the mix, was to vamp a series of low-register chords on his guitar, played through a 'fuzz' distortion pedal.